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U.S. General: 'Right Weapon against the Right Target'; Growing Fears North Korea will Conduct Nuclear Test; Interview with Rep. Brian Mast. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: ... international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.


[07:00:09] GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON JR., U.S. COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN: This was the right weapon against the right target.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: For the first time ever, the Mother of All Bombs was used by the U.S. military in combat.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are so proud of our military, and it was another successful event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't just bomb our way to national security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the political strategy? What is the political objective?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: North Korea is indeed ready to pull off its sixth nuclear test.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Bottom line is North Korea has got to change its behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The North Koreans say, if they are provoked, they are not afraid to go to war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ramping up of tensions of this nature, it's like a tinderbox. All it takes is a spark to start a fire.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Chris has the day off. John Berman joins us this morning. Great to have you.

BERMAN: Great to be here.

CAMEROTA: We do have breaking news right now. The U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan calling the massive bomb that the U.S. dropped there the right weapon against the right target. This is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat. According to Afghan officials, the bomb destroyed caves and tunnels used by ISIS fighters, and it killed dozens of those fighters.

BERMAN: Now a lot of people are asking the question if this bomb was designed to send a message to North Korea. That as officials there accuse the United States of creating a dangerous situation that could lead to further escalation. Is North Korea on the verge of conducting a new nuclear test?

We've got a lot to cover. It is day 85 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who broke the story of that huge bomb strike. We got new information just minutes ago about that strike -- Barbara.

STARR: Good morning, John.

General Nicholson holding a press conference in Kabul just wrapped up. He did say now today, at first light, U.S. forces and Afghan forces are on the ground at the site, trying to assess the damage that the bomb caused. So far, he says, they see no evidence of civilian casualties.

General Nicholson, a very experienced hand at these matters, knows full well the environment in Washington and that very question, was this bomb dropped due to some kind of other messaging that the Trump administration wanted to send, possibly to North Korea? He didn't address that, but what he did say, this was a target that they'd been looking at for some time. And he explained that they were totally focused on that and nothing else.


NICHOLSON: The timing and the use of this weapon was simply the appropriate tactical moment against the proper target to use this particular munition. So it is not related to any outside events other than our focus on destroying DA'ISH in 2017.


STARR: And there are up to 600 ISIS fighters, DA'ISH fighters in Afghanistan that U.S. forces, U.S. Special Operations forces are going against.

Now, back in Washington, as this unfolded yesterday, President Donald Trump was asked did he know about the mission? Did he authorize this extraordinary event? Listen to what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you authorize it, sir?

TRUMP: Everybody knows exactly what happened. So -- and what I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world, and they've done a job as usual. So we have given them total authorization. And that's what they're doing. And frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately.


STARR: "Total authorization." Very critical to try and understand what the president may be saying here. That doesn't mean he didn't know about it. He has, in fact, authorized commanders to have more ability to undertake missions on their own authority; and this was in Afghanistan in the works for some time. But it doesn't mean he doesn't know about it. U.S. commanders will tell you they don't want to surprise any president, any White House. They like the president to know what they're up to -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Good to know, Barbara. Thank you for all of that reporting.

There's widespread concern at this hour that North Korea will conduct its sixth nuclear test this weekend. China warns the conflict could break out at any moment as the rhetoric from the north and the U.S. heats up.

CNN's Alexandra Field is live in Seoul, South Korea, with all the details -- Alexandra.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Alisyn, good morning.

Washington does fully expect and anticipate, and they are preparing for the possibility of a sixth nuclear test or another ballistic missile launch from North Korea, although no one can say with any certainty when exactly that would happen.

The question now is how the U.S. sill respond to those kinds of provocations. It is the issue that V.P. Mike Pence will take up when he makes his visit to the region, stopping in Seoul over the weekend, and then moving on to Tokyo to talk about all of the options that are on the table in Washington when it comes to dealing with the nuclear threat from North Korea.

And that, of course, includes, as we know well, a military option. It's the option that is feared in South Korea, which depends on the U.S. for its defense and its protection. But they also fear retaliation from North Korea.

North Korea has already expressed its outrage at the presence of U.S. war ships in the water off of the Korean Peninsula, saying that the presence of nuclear strategic assets has threatened global security and could push the region to the brink of a thermo-nuclear war. That's the propaganda from Pyongyang.

They've also released images this week of their leader, Kim Jong-un, conducting training exercises. A show of force that accompanies what will be the celebration of the important day on their calendar. That's a holiday that comes tomorrow. It is around that holiday in the past where we have seen provocative moves like missile launches and other tests that could provoke a strong reaction -- Alisyn, John.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Alexandra. Thank you for being there and for all of that reporting.

We have a lot to discuss. Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analysts David Gregory and Abby Phillip; along with CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Army Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Spider, I want to start with you. We just heard something very interesting from one of our analysts, Kimberly Dozier, who said that this -- the use of this MOAB bomb, the -- as we've said -- the largest non-nuclear bomb ever employed by the U.S., was actually requested during the Obama administration. So why now and why use this bomb?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, let's back up just a tiny bit. MOAB was developed and tested back in early 2003. So it was available when I was the senior intel guy when we were going to war in Iraq. It was available for use. There was no good opportunity to use it, because the military, Saddam's military kind of frittered away, and the insurgency popped up. So there was no good targets that were not separated from what would have been huge civilian casualties. So it was never used.

This was a target that General Nicholson knew could be serviced by this -- by this munition. And it clearly was a tactical decision to do that, saving the lives of Afghan fighters and U.S. fighters that would have had to have cleared this target.

So the rules of engagement and the collateral damage estimates, the decision processes have been in place and predate this administration. Certainly go back to the Obama administration and Bush, et cetera. Been in place for a while.

BERMAN: David Gregory, the question is does this large bomb have a larger strategic significant? Does it fit into a bigger Trump White House military global strategy? Is there a bigger Trump White House global military strategy?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that there's an emerging strategy of sending a political message with the use of force. I think you saw that in Syria.

Look, the contrast couldn't be clearer to the previous administration in Syria, for example. Draw a red line. Then don't back it up. We've heard from former advisers to President Obama who said that they wish he would have done that; would have done what President Trump has now done.

I don't think it's a substitute for a larger military strategy in either of these countries. I think what could happen in Korea is still very much unknown. But there's no question that I think President Trump wants to send a message that there is a new president with an interest in sending a different kind of military and political message to adversaries around the world. I think there's no question the use of weaponry like this serves that larger point.

But again, to the general's point, this is a tactical decision. I don't know that there's a larger strategy in place on how to deal with these -- these issues.

CAMEROTA: Abby, let's look at the military action. That the military -- the U.S. military has taken since President Trump came into office. Because there's a lot of them. So as you know, there was the -- what was generally lauded and considered a success. The strike on the Syrian air base. There was this MOAB bombing. As you know, the -- in North Korea, The USS Carl Vinson is heading there now. In Iraq, they're adding 200 troops.

Now, there are some that have gone terribly wrong. The raid in Yemen where civilians were killed as well as a marine. And then there's just been this friendly fire accident in another part of Syria.

So, some people say that this is not what President Trump campaigned on. This is not America first. But isn't this sort of in keeping with "We're going to keep America safe"?

PHILLIP: Well, yes. You know, one thing we should always remember is that the U.S. military is always engaged in a lot of pockets around the world. We just don't always hear about it. We're not always focused on it.

One of the risks for Trump is that, as someone who ran, again, sort of disengaging the U.S. a little bit more from the world and using the resources instead to build up the domestic, you know, roads and bridges and so on and so forth, there's a risk of being perceived as someone who's just a little too hawkish for some of his core supporters.

[07:10:12] So far, Trump has really erred on the side of using a lot of sort of -- of missile power. He hasn't really put sort of forward his position or his doctrine on what it would take for him to authorize ground troops in part of the world. Until we really see where he lands on that, it is too early to know how far he is willing to go and how much he's really changed from his core tenets during the campaign.

BERMAN: An important distinction. Guys, stand by for a second, because I'm hearing we're just getting in now video of this bomb blast in Afghanistan. The MOAB. The largest non-nuclear device ever deployed by the U.S. military. Let's watch this. Then we'll talk about it.

CAMEROTA: Yes, there is no sound on this. You can see there, I guess the...

BERMAN: Very large impact of that. I think that's the aftermath right there. We're going to re-rack it and show it one more time. Spider, you in particular, if you can watch this and tell us what we're seeing as we are seeing it here, Spider.

MARKS: Yes. First of all, notice the terrain. It's very restrictive. So when you have a concussive blast like that, it's going to be contained within an increasingly smaller area. So the force in the blast is just exacerbated, based on where it's striking. Also bear in mind, this was a tunnel complex. So again, as that

shockwave goes underground and gets into those different tunnels, it's constricted. And you can only imagine. Anybody who's down there is now turned to dust.

BERMAN: It's not a bunker buster, right?


BERMAN: That's a different type of device. This is fuel ignition. It makes a very big fire. And that fire, in theory, goes underground and clears out the tunnels. Correct?

MARKS: It's an air burst aboveground. You can determine at which altitude you want that thing to go off. That's based on how you describe the target. You then have a conically shaped kind of a radius of effects on the ground. It is not a bunker buster.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, go ahead. What do you -- what do you want to weigh in on what the president's decision and the military's have been?

GREGORY: Well, again, I guess, you know, I'm thinking about larger messaging, larger strategy at work. I just think we're in a place -- and Spider Marks and I have talked about this. In 2017 for the U.S. military and for this administration where, as you think about military strategy -- you know, air power alone has limited effect and limited utility. Even something as, you know, awesome as this to view.

There's a lot of intended audiences here. The United States is very much in a fight against ISIS at a point when ISIS has been degraded significantly and may be much closer to falling, at least in portions of Iraq if not in Syria as much.

You've got an audience in Pyongyang and in North Korea and in Syria and, indeed, in Russia. So there's a lot of politics involved here internationally, where the president is trying to stake out ground.

But again, I would say as a military strategy, these are still limited tools in terms of how you follow-up on this strategically down the line.

BERMAN: I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, we are getting our first look at this video, the first actual military deployment. The first time the U.S. military has ever used the device. This was in a remote mountainous area. You know, you see no signs of any communities or anything nearby. What do you see here?

STARR: Well, as we continue to play this video, what I can tell you is this fell -- it's hard to see on the video there. But we know that this fell into a deep mountain valley. This fell. There's mountain ridges surrounding the area and this cave -- this complex of caves and tunnels was deep in a valley surrounded by these steep mountains. So it's one of the ways that they could keep an eye on the target in the days leading up to this and try to ensure that there were no civilians in the area.

That shot you see right there is a better look at this region, which is so mountainous and so remote. So it falls into this deep mountain valley and the mountains surrounding it, certainly I think you can say would have absorbed some of the blast which also would kept damage contained from any other civilian areas nearby.

There are, at a distance, some villages, some areas where there are people. But troops on the ground this morning say they see no signs of civilian casualties.

So General Nicholson at his press conference was making the point that this was the best weapon for the target in this remote area. Because what they had seen were these ISIS fighters retreat into this mountain valley, into these caves and tunnels. Very difficult for troops on the ground, U.S. troops and Afghan troops on the ground, to really prosecute this kind of target.

[07:15:17] The ISIS fighters had laid out belts of IEDs and other obstacles, other weapons. They were fairly well dug in. And this is a classic tactic in this area of eastern Afghanistan, you know, dating back to 2001 when the U.S. tried to flush out Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, and that didn't work off for a lot of other reasons.

But this is an area over the years where terrorists have fled into, hidden out in caves and tunnels. And they really do have the advantage. Because they can see U.S. troops coming at them on the ground. They can spot them from their hideouts. But this time it was from the air.

The initial assessment is, you know, they got what they were trying to go after. But probably important to remember that the U.S. estimate is there's still up to 800 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan.

BERMAN: Good note. Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

Guys, stand by, because you know, this huge bomb blast in Afghanistan is the second military strike launched without congressional approval in the last two weeks. Will the president go to Congress to get authorization? We're going to have a Republican Congressman and Afghan War veteran joining us next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[07:20:34] BERMAN: All right. Staying on top of the breaking news this morning. The Pentagon just released video of the huge bomb hitting and killing dozens of ISIS fighters, officials say, in tunnels and caves in remote Eastern Afghanistan. Now remember, this is the largest non-nuclear bomb the United States has ever used in combat.

Joining me now is Congressman Brian Mast of Florida. He's an Army combat veteran. He served in Afghanistan. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. We're just getting

our first look of that video, the MOAB, the massive bomb that was used yesterday. Your reaction to this strike, sir?

REP. BRIAN MAST (R), FLORIDA: You know, I'm glad to see that there's a commitment to this level of violence of action from the commander in chief. I hope that we do see, eventually, an authorized use of military force that's going to be updated for our role that we're going to play in Afghanistan; for what we're going to be doing in Syria and other parts of the world. But I'm happy to see this level of commitment, because it shows that we have somebody that's willing to fight to win.

BERMAN: You say eventually you need congressional authorization. You know, the clock is ticking if you want to do this right, especially from Syria. You would be 60 days from the Syrian missile strike, which was about ten days ago right now. Are you committed to pushing your fellow members of Congress to get involved here? Because you know, because you were in Congress, back in 2013, you know, your comrades shirked their responsibilities, or they decided not to vote.

MAST: And this is a conversation that we've been having already, is you know, what is our approach to making sure that this is something that we get done? What is going to be the goal that we have? What are we trying to accomplish there? How do we get in there and do it? How do we get out of there after this mission is accomplished? And what are going to be some of the options for accomplishing that mission? It's important for everybody to know.

BERMAN: Has the White House, has the administration given you any indication that they have the answers to any of those questions?

MAST: I haven't had the opportunity to ask the White House those questions personally. When I get the opportunity to ask those questions personally, I certainly will. And I suspect you're going to see some movement on this, certainly as we return from recess back to Washington.

BERMAN: But s you watch this, and again, as I watch it, have they made clear what their larger strategy is?

MAST: Well, I think one of the things that you certainly see as a part of this strategy is that the goal is not going to be limping along to contain or limping along to simply degrade. The goal is going to be to destroy this enemy, to root them out wherever we find them. And to make sure that they realize we have a commitment to actually destroy them wherever it is that we find them. And that's the most life-saving thing that you can do on the battlefield, is to have that commitment.

You know, the reality is we're never going to make peace with a current enemy. You make peace with your former enemy.

BERMAN: Can you...

MAST: And to do that, you have to make them a former enemy. BERMAN: Can you do that just by the air, though? No matter how big

that bomb is, can you do it just from the air? Or do you have to commit ground troops or greater ground troops? And I say this to you, sir, you know, as an Army combat veteran who was wounded, gravely wounded in war.

MAST: So you're talking about the battlefield of Afghanistan right now, which obviously, we have -- we've had ground troops there for years.

BERMAN: About 8,000 now, right?

MAST: So -- so that's kind of a moot point, we're going to have ground troops there.

If you're talking about other theaters of war, that's a -- that's a different question.

But yes, in Afghanistan, you're going to continue to see our men on the ground there. But I think you're seeing a smart role being played here. The reality is I know IEDs as well as anybody. They don't just come in ones and twos. They come in dozens and more than a dozen. These -- these fighters in the area were obviously very well dug in. It's an area of largely military-age male fighters.

But I think you also see a very good level of responsibility in using this device. You know, you could have dropped more ordnance on the area, if you wanted to. You could have dropped -- you could have carpet bombed the area. That would have been substantially more ordnance, but it wouldn't have been precise. It wouldn't have been a guided bomb unit like what you see being used with the MOAB. And in using precision, that's a level of restraint.

BERMAN: This is a personal, non-political question here. You were injured. I don't know if most people in the nation know this, but you lost your legs in an IED attack ten years ago, in 2010 in Afghanistan.

As you watch continued U.S. military action seven years after that, 15 years into the conflict. Just in general, what are your feelings that this is still going on in Afghanistan?

MAST: You know, I want -- I want to see the end in sight. I care as much as anybody about my friends that are still out there on the battlefield. I have a lot of them that are still out there and probably the reality is I'm going to end up losing some of them before this war is over. And that's not something that I want to think about. And I don't think it's something that any American wants to think about or any -- any family member who has their sons and daughters over there. This isn't something that we want.

[07:25:16] But to get to that place where we're going to be able to make peace, we have to make them a former enemy. And that does require a certain level of commitment. But it's certainly not lost on me whatsoever the cost of war. And I don't just mean that monetarily. I mean that in terms of life. I've lost 67 friends in our theaters of war. I don't just mean that in terms of limb. I recovered alongside -- you know, when I was injured in 2010, there was 50, 60 men and women a month that were waking up like me in Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I know exactly what that costs us, and I don't want to see it continue.

BERMAN: And we honor your commitment, sir, and certainly, we respect your commitment to your friends and fellow soldiers. Congressman Brian Mast of Florida. Great to have you on with us. Thank you so much for your time sir.

MAST: Always good to be with you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John. Donald Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that he loved WikiLeaks. Well, now his CIA director says something much different and much darker. That's next.


CAMEROTA: CIA Director Mike Pompeo now blasting WikiLeaks as a hostile --